A hundred or so people came to Woodford Reserve June 12 to celebrate the opening of a new welcome center across the road from the bourbon giant’s visitor center and distillery.
“We are standing – or sitting – on historic ground,” said Master Distiller Chris Morris. “Where Elijah Pepper began crafting whiskey back in 1812. And it was here where legendary master distiller James Christopher Crowe perfected his bourbon-making methods, which today are the standards of identity of a bourbon whiskey, including the sour mash process and the use of new charred oak barrels in maturation.”
Company officials say the welcome center is a modern take on a traditional Bluegrass farmhouse, and features a main hall, ticketing area, seating, restrooms, bar, and outdoor entertaining spaces. Oak and limestone were used as building materials – a nod to the bourbon-making process. The artwork inside is by Kentucky artists, and includes landscapes and an aerial view of the distillery grounds.
Last year, 152,000 people from around the world toured Woodford Reserve. Now, that tour will begin at the welcome center, with visitors bussed across McCracken Pike to see the company’s fermentation, distillation, maturation and bottling process.
Eric Gregory, the president of the Kentucky Distiller’s Association (KDA), said in 1996, the year Woodford Reserve was created, the bourbon industry was just getting back on its feet. Three years later, the KDA created the Kentucky Bourbon Trail.
“Now, 20 years later, Kentucky bourbon is a thriving economic and tourism powerhouse for our commonwealth, with $8.6 billion in annual economic impact, 20,100 jobs carried over $1 billion in payroll, 1.4 million stops on our Kentucky Bourbon Trail and our Kentucky Bourbon Trail craft tour distilleries, and $2.3 billion in … capital investment across 32 Kentucky counties,” Gregory said.
The ceremony concluded with staffers and the general public taking turns pouring new-made Woodford Reserve into a barrel emblazoned with the date, and these words by Kentucky Bourbon Hall of Famer Morris: “Please pause and enjoy Woodford Reserve slowly and responsibly. After all, it takes us years to make it this wonderful bourbon, so let’s enjoy it slowly and responsibly.”